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tv   White House Chronicles  WHUT  November 20, 2009 6:00pm-6:30pm EST

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captioned by the national captioning institute >> hello, i'm llewellyn king, the host of "white house chronicle," which is coming right up. first, a few thoughts of my own. this is a magnifying glass, and in front of me i have this giant book. but it is only a small version of something even bigger. it is the compact version of the oxford english dictionary. the type is so tiny -- i had
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never seen tight this tiny, smaller than the smallest bible type you have ever seen -- that you have to have this magnifier to read it at all. no human eye can read it. it is a matter of incredible printing skill that they can do this. of course, it is easier to see it online, but it is quite wonderful to see these wonderful, incredible words. i love reading dictionaries because when i get stuck on word, i look it up. then i see another word, and another word, and then i have wasted a half an hour. hopefully i am remembering may be one of them because i in -- because i tend to learn a lot of words. today we are going to talk about words, the impact of words in politics, the impact of words generally, how we use them, and what a wonderful euphemism is we
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have. in particular, we are going to talk about the euphemisms we have for drinking, because my friend paul dickson has written a book called simply, "drug," and it has words -- "drunk," and it has words that describe that state. when we have something that has been fermented or brood. we will be back talking about politics after these titles. >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with whut howard university television. now, your host, nationally syndicated columnist llewellyn king. and co-host linda gasparello.
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>> hello again. thank you so much for coming along. i am joined by linda gasparello, the co-host of this program, and by the great and remarkable paul dickson, a real man of letters, a phrase that we do not hear much anymore but we think is a high accolade. >> thank you, sir. >> you have written 53 books? how do you write 53 books? >> it is all i do. if i was a barber and i said i cut 2 million heads of hair, you would say that is what a barber does. >> how long has it taken you to write 53 books? >> i have been independent writer since 1968, so for 40 years. >> that is a little more than a book a year. this one is great fun because it is about drinking. but a lot of your books have been about words, haven't they? >> i have had several major books on words. my baseball dictionary came out
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again this year. this was a different thing. i have always looked on language as recreation. if you are drowning, you yell help. that is the most utilitarian aspect of language. but there's also a part that came into our lives with the crossword puzzle, the scrabble game, the columns of william safire. william safire was amazing, a contribution to the concept of linguistics, which was a word like. this thing came about because i wanted to get into "the guinness book of world records." >> an ego trip? >> well, i always thought it would be fun to get into "the guinness book." people always got in my riding a bicycle or pushing a peanut with the tip of their nose. but you're oxford english dictionary, the record for the
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number of definitions is set, s-e-t in, with 137 definitions. >> nobody quite knew what it men. it would be party set, -- nobody quitknew what it meant. it would be party said, fate said -- >> and then set of tennis. >> george orwell and others, but particularly george orwell, wrote about the power of language in politics and the corruption of language for political purposes and vice versa. can you tell us a little bit about the power of language? i will give you some leads. the republicans have always been very good at freezing the debate and using their word. the pro-life forces went to ireland and said to the irish who were fighting abortion, "don't talk about the fetus, talk about the baby."
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that is the use of language for political effect. give us some examples of that. >> one of the things i collected over the years, just as sort of a prison for lking at this, is built -- as a sort of sasa pr ism for looking at this -- dwight d. eisenhower turned priority into a verb -- prioritize. the phrase, roosevelt came up with the fireside chat. my favorite is teddy roosevelt. he came up with some doozies. one of his was a lunatic fringe. >> teddy roosevelt came up with that? interesting. >> call up the channel and tell them that they are doing well. >> the other was muckrakers. that was one of his terms. jefferson was a great, great creator of language. >> he was a wordy.
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>> electioneering, indecipherable, monotonously -- pedicure. the noun did -- he invented a word for new words. his big contribution was anglo phile. he picd that up in a way that people were too cozy with the british culture, so it was a pejorative to him. almost every president right through -- >> that is very interesting, the way waterloo has become universal for defeat. the alli won. but it has become a synonym for defeat. >> buit is the vagaries of our language. look at the word raise. if it is r-auiei-se, it is
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tearing down -- it is building a building. if it is our azt, it is tearing it down. >> gerrymandering -- changing district in massachusetts to been democratic. it looked like a salamander after he did it. when boston newspaper said it is not a salamander, it is a gerrymander. that is how gerrymandering came into it fence mending also came out of a political maneuver, and we have so many of these things that have come out of politics. >> does anybody have any out of recent presidents? we know, for example, that george w. bush was not an easy extranus speaker. >> he made words that, yes.
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misunderestimate was one. >> yes. >> we are ready for a contribution from president obama beyond "we lead upt someh. >> well, he is really careful with his language. he really, as a lawyer, but said it in a very lawyerly way, and he tends to be choosing very precise words. >> i am not necessarily saying that -- both obama and bush had very good speech writers. i have watched bush just stumbling around before he got to the speech. i once was in germany and he was not doing well. when he got the speech, it was very good because he read it
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well and he was comfortable. when he had that teleprompter, he had a degree of comfort that he would not have had otherwise. and obama does both. he always has a teleprompter, and he seems quite comfortable without it. at the press conferences there is a big teleprompter that is close to a shield. he reads the first few remarks even as they sound quite informal of that, but then he is into questions and he is on his own and he does just as well. >> right. >> so he is naturally articulate. i wonder, though, whether he will leave us with any great phrases that will go down in history. i do not think he has yet. >> right, and you do not really know until a little bit after the fact. it was interesting. one of the ones that george bush used after 9/11 was normal say, and that was -- was normalcy,
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and that was greeted by warren g. harding. another word was below the eight. i wondered where that came from. -- another word was bloviate. >> i wondered where that came from. >> fox news. >> someone said the great proof of the resilience in the american democracy is that it survived the harding administration. he did have a way with words, and bloviate were -- was his word for the members of congress who never stopped bloviating. >> in a moment we will talk about your new book, "drunk." but i would just like to remind that we are airing on sorrieirim
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radio produces "white house chronicle -- radio. this is "white house chronicle," toasted by linda gasparello. there is a hindi word that came into the language. some words stock and some words just went away, those particularly inc. from french. some state and some did not. do you have any thoughts about that? >> there are many words were shakespeare either created them himself or they were words that he was hearing on the street. fireworks -- before then they were pyrotechnics. there is no such word as road,
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and that was coined by shakespeare. when it comes to drug, if you're not paying attention, he would -- when it comes to drunk, if you are not paying attention, he would talk about someone coming into the room with the sun in his eyes. what he is talking about is the person is plastered. and chaucer had a lot. one of the interesting things about the drunk thing, the people who made the lists are classic. the first one who made a list was benjamin franklin, who came up with 227 words. then dickens had a list. they are all ahead of their time. >> i can imagine that. >> i have always liked the words not about being drunk, but not the drink itself. of which there are many, too. i always like to sundown.
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it is just d less. there is note -- it is just and less. there is no other subject that has as many descriptions, is there? 2900 and something? >> the first list was 2231. i had to get him into this book because it was not the word drunk -- i wanted the person who collected the most synonyms in the english language, so i had pretty strict rules. i had to either find them in literature or find some citation. i could not just sit around and make them up. i got all these other people helping me. the late wilam safire, for example, helped me find words for this book. he was one of the last people to throw a few logs on the fire. >> amuse me. gha!
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and one of my favorites, gaga. >> g. k. chesterton did not feel it was proper to refer to dead drunk. by the way, shakespeare is the first one in literature to use "dead drunk." chesterton felt that there had to be another word for that, and he came up with "blotto." >> it does not sound like it was more than 100 years old, does it? >> i have a character who says, "my name is auto, i like to get blotto." >> and the english also came up with squiffy. >> the one that came from the satirical magazine private eye, to describe drunken politicians, overly tired and emotional. journalists were famous for
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being overly tired and emotional. >> that is one of the reasons you have some many euphemisms, and i went all through the british tabloids going back to the turn-of-the-century they were using cockney -- to the turn of the century. there were using cockney rhyming list. >> apples and pears, four of the stairs. i do not pretend to know it, but i know a few phrases. they could talk using these derivative words. derived on their rhyming. that is all. but they could have whole conversations in them. >> paul, in a number of books that you talk about words, do you begin with dictionaries? how do you begin the search? >> that is a great question. when i was a kid, other kids were collecting baseball cards
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and i used to -- i just love collecting words, and i find -- i kept finding these -- i went to dictionaries and started making lists. my big work this year is the new edition of my baseball dictionary, which is a 4.2-pound dictionary of just terms from baseball. part of it is this fascination with language. somebody once said ira campbell, one of the great british writers, said that -- >> look at this. >> it is 4.2 pounds. >> go back and work harder. there must be more words could >> this is how it started. one of my kids, we were at the ball game. they said why do they say umpire and not referee? why do they say shortstop? i would go to the dictionary and give them answers. why do they say bount instead of
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bump? because you are really bumping the ball? in 1989, there were 5000 terms. the second edition, i had another version. this just came of this year. this has 10,287 terms and over 18,000 definitions. >> i just opened it and i am intrigued by hot stove league. >> that was the guys who sat around the general store in the winter and discussed the upcoming season. there are some transitions back and forth between the british and baseball. my fair won his rookie -- my favorite one is a rookie. beginner. that shows up in redwood can cling -- in rudyard kipling, in a poem, meaning a recruit.
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but it gets picked up by americans, and they're using it exclusively for a beginning player, a guy in his first year. then, in the falklands war, the british pick it up again for recruit and they say you rikki, an american baseball term, and they were -- they say rickey, an american baseball term, and they were going back and forth across the atlantic. >> that is really interesting. >> who do you think today in politics, and it is probably not a particularly fair question -- but has used words in recent times well to further their coining of phrases obama care -- of phrases? obama care -- somebody coined that as a pejorative. corning pejorative words for democratic programs. >> that is a great question because i am not sure -- i am
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not sure that that area has not passed to some degree. their sound bites, -- the sound bites, i can remember a time where it seemed like the dirksons and the humphries and the rest of them, they would carry a message with their voice. >> there is a new study out of words or phrases that annoy people. i think the one that comes to the top -- whatever i think was the one that people find most annoying. like bothers me because i think the poor little word as has been dropped. most people respond to a question by saying "well." another phrase is "at the end of the day." if you are having an argument, a
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"at the end of the day, does it work?" i found it interesting because it is used so much. and don't you think, or "you know." >> one that i have used a lot these days, especially when you're dealing with a spokesman for a government agency or even at the white house is, obviously. it is not obvious to us. it really is not. if you would just give it a little bit of time to work it into what you wanted to say. >> the press secretary says "each and every" a lot. "each and every member, each and every this." sometimes it irritates me because i think it is superfluous. >> obviously, othis president. >> well, they used to be well-
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known. one of lincoln poskitt contributions to language -- one of lincoln's contributions to languages "point well taken." i remember in the old days when i had college professors who smoked pipes, they would often -- >> did you have any that did not smoke pipes? >> one of the things, the pipe was, i think, so you did not have to use a word like like or ok. they are verbal pledges that we use to get from one thought to another. you find yourself doing yourself and having to rein it in. and then your less spontaneous because you're thinking about i'm going to use the word hopefully or irregardless. the problem with this is -- just stay on --
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>> just stay on irregardless. we had flammable, in flammable. at one time, every copy editor in this country went mad if you said finalize, you know? now it is a standard english word and nobody has bothered by it. >> and nobody has bothered by prioritize, either. >> when eisenhower started to use that, there was an editorial in several papers that would criticize him for it. but what is interesting as we have all this change in language. language is a plant site -- is it clear the site every high school english teacher in the country at some time during the day says the word "hopefully, it is a game over. they say that irregardless is a
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barbarism, which is if you are a parent, but it contains a stronger sense of regardlessness. >> i agree with that. at some point you lose the point of literature if it changes so radically. we cannot read middle english or old english, and it gets harder and harder as the language changes to retain its literature. >> but we can still read shakespeare. >> absolutely. >> even the collegiate dictionary will keep it were alive for the simple reason that it is used by shakespeare. the fact is, good writing seems to be able to survive. clear writing -- chaucer, shakespeare, dickens. mark twain. mark twain is still very -- hemingway is still very -- mark twain is still very funny. some people are not. some people are flamboyant, and
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over the edge. james freedomworks cooper is gone. bam -- james said mark cooper -- james fenimore cooper is gone. >> hemingway reads very well because of the terse way that he wrote, and he presumably will read very well for a long time. >> is it because we do not know the words? when you're reading an 18th- century british novel, are there going to be some words that you will have to look up? >> you do not have to go that far back. i read some books by john paul. every page, i thought he was pushing it. i worked at the daily mirror newspaper in england, and we allegedly had a 500-word vocabulary. it was not written down somewhere, but it was an effort to use the simpler words so that the readers could understand
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what you were talking about. it also was a newspaper that favored for at least allowed the cliche. if you said black as ink, that was not necessarily a no-no, as it would be in many newspapers because it was a cliche people understand that. that is how they speak and think. do you have a favorite book, "baseball" or "drunk"? >> we were talking about "can of corn" 4 "a lazy fly ball." the field is drifting back and it sort of dropped into his glove -- the fielder is drifting back and it's sort of jobs and his glove. the etymology is backed a grocery stores when they had these mechanical grabbers. he would throw out his apron to
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catch the point. it would just sort of tumbledown. >> tell me how does tell me out of "drunk, one of your favorite descriptions, three sheets to the wind, sort of thing. >> one of the major ones that i think is very funny is feng sh uied. that is a designer coming out of a party fairly feng shuied, where the furniture in his brain is rearranged. >> paul dickson, wonderful riding. it's very interesting man. to think about buying these books. they make great gifts. we will y to stay sober until next week when we look forward
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to joining with you. if you want to visit with us, come to our website, wh until then, cheers. captioned by the national captioning institute >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with whut howard university television. from washington, d.c., this has been "white house chronicle," a weekly analysis of the news with insight and a sense of humor, featuring llewellyn king, linda gasparello, and guests. this program may be seen on pbs stations and cable access
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